We have a closet under the stairs that is awkward in many ways. It has been slowly grating on my nerves for months. It’s the main coat closet in our home, and it just wasn’t working. I could not figure out what to do with it or how to make it work for our family.
Before you ask, no, I didn’t turn it into a Harry Potter Cupboard. Although, that was tempting. Wouldn’t a Harry Potter-themed reading nook closet under the stairs be fun? I’d use it! But, alas, we really needed a coat closet. So that was out of the picture.
This closet is about 4 feet wide, and about 6 feet deep, and has serious design flaws. As you can see, the coat rack rod was hung way far back from the door, about 4 feet, and then there was another 2 feet after that under the slope. That caused a massive pile up of junk between the door and the coat rack.
The closet is nowhere near the front door. It is in a very small & cramped vestibule, across from our powder room, with the door to the garage in between them. Looking at that the photo above, I’m in the powder room taking that picture, and the door to the garage is right behind the open closet door. The left side goes to the Great Room/Living Room.
One night last year, I was trying to hide Christmas presents in there, and I almost broke my ankle. No joke.
The Saturday before Christmas, Doug took my son to 2 birthday parties, and I decided I’d had it. I demoed the closet and texted him a pic of the empty closet saying “Merry Christmas”. 3 days later, I had a brand new custom closet under the stairs. Yipee!!
The first thing I did was completely empty the closet.
I just shoved everything into the powder room across the hall. That hallway from the garage to the living room is really small & tight, and I just needed everything out of the way.
Then came the fun part, I got to demo stuff! I removed the old coat rack and set it aside to reuse in the new design. I also removed the old shelf & patched holes in the wall with spackle.
Once that was all done, it looked something like this:
Next came paint! I was lucky, I had enough paint in the garage from the bathroom project to paint this little closet under the stairs. It was a nasty little closet with mystery stains and a funky stencil of birds on a branch. That had to go.
For those that don’t remember, most of the house is painted in Benjamin Moore Bunny Grey. We use an eggshell finish, because its easier to clean when your kid decides to use his sidewalk chalk inside the house on your walls (that only happened once).
Next came the planning phase. Since I took on this project as a whim, I hadn’t done my normal sit down research & sketch phase. So I kind of did it on the fly. I had a basic idea of what I wanted, and knew I wanted built in shelves in the back under the slope of the stairs. The tricky part was where to put the coat rack. I could put it back where it was, just before the slope, but then I’d end up with the same problem as before. Or, I could put it closer to the door, but then you’d have to walk through a rack full of coats to access the shelves.
After some Pinteresting, I found this post by House of Hepworths. Her closet under the stairs looked similar to mine, and she had enough space to put the coat rack perpendicular to the door frame. Genius! I measured my closet, and found that I would have enough hanger clearance to put the coat rack on the door frame trim & get a 10″ shelf on the top. The coats would stick out a bit, but you’d still have enough room to walk around them on the left to get to the shelves. I also decided to add a board with hooks along the wall for kid coats, umbrellas & reusable shopping bags. Done and done.
I took my measurements to Lowe’s and got my lumber. I used primed mdf 1×3 boards for the shelf supports, left over poplar from my bathroom shelves for the top shelf, 2 LouAnn boards for the bottom shelves, and 2 10″ poplar boards for the wardrobe.
I’m not a carpenter by any means, though I would love to learn. For this job, I just used common sense & a lot of measuring. Doug and I made all of the cuts with our circular & compound miter saws, and got to work putting everything together. Then, we used 2″ screws to attach the mdf cleats to the studs, and then glued & laid the shelves on them. After that, we attached the shelves to the cleats with 1.5″ wood screws. We countersunk everything so that they would be flush and unnoticeable when we painted.
You could also use a nail gun to make this job go much faster.
The trickiest part of the whole thing was that we had to use the Dremel to take out part of the door frame for the wardrobe cleat & remove part of the baseboard for the vertical board of the wardrobe. We needed the cleat in the door frame because that is the exact spot that the coat rack needed to be installed to allow enough hanger clearance to the wall. I bought a foot of shoe moulding to finish off the door frame. I also added a piece to the end of the board that would hold our hooks.
By the end of the first day, all of the support cleats & shelves were in, and the wardrobe unit was built & installed, and everything was wood puttied.
The next two days was all sanding, cleaning, caulking and painting. I let Doug handling the caulking. He’s much better at it than I am. He lets me do the paint. I’m much better at it than he is.
I did have to go pick up a quart of Benjamin Moore Decorator’s White, because I didn’t have enough left over. That set me back about $25. That stuff is expensive, but it’s the best, and that’s the trim color in our house, so the leftovers will get used eventually.
Ah, isn’t it pretty?
I did two coats of paint on everything, and I let the shelves sit and cure for about a week. That was probably overkill, but I didn’t want to scratch them with stuff on top. Also, I had so much more storage space now, that I didn’t have anything to put on them!
The last part of the project was cleaning the carpet. It had mystery stains. Gross. I put some hot water, vinegar & a little bit of blue Dawn in a spray bottle, sprayed and scrubbed, sprayed and scrubbed. I used my OXO Scrub Brush to get the job done. The stains pretty much all came out. Who knows how long they had been there. Gross!
Now the powder room full of crap was driving me crazy, so it was time to load the closet. Since I had a pretty closet now, I decided to donate all of the mismatched plastic coat hangers, and switch to my favorite black Huggable Hangers. They were on sale at Target that week, so I picked up a pack of suit hangers. I decided to move some of the stuff we were storing in that closet to the attic, including large items like suitcases and golf clubs.
I also picked up two large baskets for the third shelf. One is empty now, and the other is holding stuff I need to sell.
The next shelf holds some odds and ends like the kid’s Lessons for days they are home, parts to Baby Gear that I keep in a plastic box and my baby bag. I’m looking for something to hold papers so the kids can put their school work in them when they come home. Maybe a paper tray.
The top shelf isn’t as deep as the others. The bottom shelves are 20″ deep, but the top shelf is only 12″ deep. I’m going to get some flatter baskets or trays to put up there, and it will be odds and ends, like mittens, maybe a loose change jar. I’m not sure yet.
I really love the rack of hooks. My reusable shopping bags & umbrella hang on the first hook, and then each kid has their own coat hook. I placed it 36″ from the floor, so the kids have no excuse not to hang their coats up. So far, it’s worked.
I spent about $150 on this closet under the stairs project. Most of that was lumber & a quart of cabinet paint. I had all of the screws, anchors, and other supplies on hand already.
Here’s the before & after!
SO. MUCH. BETTER!
Overall, I’m really happy with the way this closet turned out. I’m pretty sure I quadrupled the storage capacity of this closet. I mean, I have empty shelves! Who has empty shelves in a closet? THIS GIRL!
I know it looks finished, but of course, it’s me, so there ARE a few little things I still want to do in here. Here’s the list:
Paint Custom Storage Kid Coat Hooks
- Chrome Door Hinges
- Wood Floors & New Thick Baseboards
- Artwork/Bulletin Board for the Walls
- Short Basket/Boxes for the Top Shelf
- Decor Items
- Paper Trays
New Light Fixture
That’s not much. The wood flooring is the only big expense, and that won’t be done for a few years. I think I can live with it until then, especially since I cleaned up the mystery stains.
We did end up installing a recessed can and LED trim kit. That’s our favorite trick. We’ve done it in 6 places in the house already and have at least 4 more rooms on the to do list. It’s a simple project with big impact!
So what do you think? Do you have any weird shaped closets that need a facelift? Have you built custom storage in any of your closets? What does your closet under the stairs look like? Tell us about it in the comments!
I’m ready to tackle the Master Closet now…Maybe not. Spoiler Alert – I did!